…or a bitch or a bully for that matter…
As you can probably tell, this is a very blunt post which involves no Political Correctness or pandering to your ego. Every time we tell someone that families are different and we need to do things our own way or a way that works for us, we are fiddling while Rome burns. And believe me, you don’t have to look at many kids to see just how quickly Rome is turning to ashes. If you’re feeling a bit precious, or down, this is not the post for you. Come back when you’re feeling brave.
For new readers let me be very clear. This is not my opinion. This is biology 101. The biology class everyone seems to have missed including most of the parenting experts. Our brains are in one of four states at any time: stressed, High Stress Short Term (HSST), Low Stress Long Term (LSLT) or calm. It really *is* that simple. What we have to do is work through all the things we would like to believe are true and accept and face what is true. And change things. I am not interested in your needs. You are an adult. You have conscious thought and you know raising children is temporary. Children’s brains don’t work like ours. They can’t rationalise. They think what is happening now is going to happen forever. And in a way, it does. The way children spend the first three to nine years sets them up for the rest of their lives. (Yes, there are exceptions – loads of sex with one person between 17 and 25 can change your brain for the better; processing all of your emotional baggage through therapy or some other kind of autobiographical process can also change your brain for the better.)
Food: If you can’t cook – learn. If you think you have a healthy diet and you are fat and your kids are fat – find new information, what you’re doing is wrong. Increase the amount of veges you eat until your plate is overflowing with them (onion, garlic, bell peppers, tomatoes, and greens especially). Watch corn, carrots, potatoes, and peas – use them as extras not the main deal. If you don’t like green veges – too bad. If your kids don’t eat them – have nothing else in the house – hungry kids will eat. Eat more protein. Not heaps of red fatty meat – real protein; low fat and low sugar dairy; tofu; pasture raised beef and lamb; low fat cheeses; chicken; and especially fish. Eat it all day long in small bits rather than a big lump at night. Include small portions of raw nuts in your diet. Small. Raw. Watch your grain, including rice, intake. Cows fatten nicely on grain. So do people. Eat fruit instead of soda, icecream and chocolate. If you’re eating more than one thing a day from a packet – you’re eating too much processed food. Eating according to biology makes us calm. (And skinny)
Sleep: Kids need lots of it. 10 hours for nine year olds; 11 hours for six year olds; 12 hours for younger than four. If you want your kids up late because you’re working and you want to see them – change job or change where you live. If you’re too woosey to get your kids into bed at night – harden up. Lie with them if they won’t settle. Sleep with them if they’re scared of the dark. For years. The kicking stops after 6 months. Enough sleep makes us calm.(And clever)
Listen to them: If your child talks later than others, you’re not listening to them enough. Children who have warm attuned mothers (and fathers) who try to work out what they are say – speak earlier. Use baby-sign language. It’s about them communicating with us – and very little about us teaching them. Help them when they ask for help and teach them to ask for help by saying, can you manage or do you need help – from toddlerhood. Being listened to puts us in the lovely LSLT state.
Learn to read their body-language: Children don’t tell you they’re stressed. Their behaviour tells you. And you need to work out what the problem is and change things for them. Learn to identify the different types of tantrums and deal with them appropriately – there is a whole section here on that. Attention seeking is a big fat lie – there’s a post about that too. HSLT is always reflected in behaviour and often in health.
Insist on Manners: Our brains are built to learn the rules of society. Kids with great manners have a much easier life than kids without. Take food or anything else away if they don’t say, ‘Thankyou’. Don’t put up with interrupted conversations (beyond the age of three or four). Don’t put up with rude tones of voice. Send them to their room. They can come back when they are ready to be polite. Don’t do anything for them until they apologise. Get firm. Stick to your guns. No messing about explaining things. Stop talking so much. Manners are expected – so they happen. Learning manners happens through HSST – many times a day over a many years.
Ignore them: Children are often bored. But only the kids who have been entertained all their lives. Stop it. Get on with what you’re doing and let them come to you when they need you. They are not going to fail life if they don’t know their colours at 3; they will if they can’t think for themselves. LSLT comes from being fully engaged and self-motivated.
Get rid of the electronics and battery run toys: until they’re nine or ten. I know you don’t want to. You’re addicted. Like the rest of us. This isn’t about you. It’s about your kids being in a constant state of stress. Watch them melt down when you remove it all – yes, that’s called withdrawl. It passes. If you have the balls to carry it through. Electronics put us into a state of stress. Excitement is processed by the brain the same way that fear is.
Give up on all the opportunities and activities: The only out of school activity children under nine need is swimming because it can save their life and it helps brain wiring. I’m not at all excited about your child reading early – no one has ever asked me what age I learned to read. I don’t care if you are proud of all the things you can provide for your kid. I’m interested in who your kids are as people. Kids who don’t play enough are horrid. Activities and opportunities are about the adults not about the kids – really – look who’s doing all the talking and directing – that’s key. Being busy is high stress. Stop it.
Remove almost all toys: Our brains are built to problem solve. To be in the ideal waking state of LSLT toys need to be open-ended – that is – they don’t look or sound like the real thing. Check our Laura’s post on the boy with no toys – beneath this one. Lego is great. (Not paid to say that.) Bits of cloth are better than dress-ups. Nails and hammers and bits of wood are magic. Play is the work of childhood. Get a grip on that and you’re kids are going to end up heaps better off than the kids who are only book smart. Self-motivated and open-ended activities are wonderful for LSLT.
Let them hurt themselves: Our older two boys are 10 and nearly seven – I can already tell which kids in their classrooms are most likely to have accidents…the ones who have never used a sharp knife; climbed a tree; fallen off a fence; biked out of Mum’s sight etc. Mr B who is two and a half falls over often, hurts himself often and gets on with things. At 10 let them organise themselves and face the consequences when they forget things for school. You really don’t want their first decisions to be made the year they leave home. Believe me. Let them make mistakes. Mistakes are good. Mistakes are where we learn. If we prevent all of their mistakes, we’re preventing their chances to learn for themselves. And knowing how to fix things after our mistakes is hugely empowering. Hurting yourself and facing our mistakes is HSST – a good thing.
Say No: If there is one thing that is doing my head in around cyber-space is all you lot who won’t use No. You are meant to set the rules. Don’t buy them stuff for being good – they’re meant to be good. Stop all your star-charts and rewards programmes – they’re based on research done on dogs – your kids aren’t dogs. Stop praising them for farting on time. Say ‘Thankyou’ when they do what they’re meant to do and nothing else. You are meant to stop them from throwing things. You are meant to insist they wear a coat when it’s cold. Our brains need HSST to learn important stuff. Like cutting your finger – which hurts and it causes high stress short term and we learn not to…Your child needs you to give them that short intense dose of stress sometimes. That’s why spanking *can* work (not taking sides on that one). That’s why physically picking up your two year old and plomping to one side of the room *can* work. That’s why Time Out (where the child can reconnect and apologise in their own time – even immediately) *does* work. You have to emotionally disconnect short-term *if* you want your child to learn self-control and not be a brat. Yes, reconnect with hugs and kisses as soon as *they* are ready. Yes, keep nurturing them other times. No, don’t ever back down. No, you don’t have to be horrid about it. Just say – that’s not acceptable, come back when you’re ready to behave. And help them into their rooms if they need help. You have to make the break in emotional connection if their brains are to learn. They might tell you they hate you. They might tell you, you are the meanest mother in the world. So what? (HSST)
Ask them to do things: And expect them to be done. For other boundary setting techniques you can look in the section labelled boundary setting. I’m not spoon feeding the same information again. (HSST becomes LSLT as they contribute more and more.)
Teach them real skills for living: How to clean a loo; how to sew a button; how to ask for something in a shop; how to manage money; teach them about sex don’t leave it to their mates and don’t wait for them to ask – they might not; teach them how to cook; teach them how to grow their own food; teach them how to catch a bus and use a money machine. Teach them how to do things at their level and in small bites – the two year old pours milk with the glass on the kitchen floor. Teach them what their body is telling them about their emotional state, how to name their emotions and how to make things better for themselves. (LSLT)
Stop reasoning with them: You know all the consequences. You hold the big picture of the world. You have the whole family to hold together. Make the stand. You don’t have to be loud or ferocious about it. Just be matter of fact and firm. (HSST)
Tell them: You love them and are proud to know them. Every day. More than once a day.
Get over your pride: So your kid’s fat or a brat, your daughter’s a bitch or your son’s a bully. Yes you followed bad advice or automatically repeated patterns from your own childhood without realising it. Human brains are able to change. But like any habit change it’s not easy. It took us six and a half years. It was hell. No really. It was truly hell. But we got through it. We survived. We ignored all the raised eye-brows. We admitted we’d stuffed up and we changed things.
We are talking about our kids here – is anything else more important?